TransFair and Avon Hit for “FairWashing”

Jack Neff/AdAge

June 16, 2011


Up to now, personal-care brands have been calling themselves “fair trade” when as little as 2% of their ingredients are sourced that way. The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus doesn’t think that’s fair.

The industry self-regulatory body recommended TransFair USA, which licenses “Fair Trade” seals for Avon Products and others, require personal-care brands make clearer what “fair trade” means, and that they may have earned the designation when only 2% to 5% of their ingredients meet the qualifications for that term. NAD said the ruling was a “case of first impression” marking the first time it or courts had considered the validity of fair-trade claims for cosmetics and personal-care products.

The ruling came after a challenge by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a rival personal-care brand, which uses a rival fair-trade certification from the Institute of Marketecology.

TransFair allows cosmetics and personal-care products to use fair-trade seals for single or multiple ingredients, but the NAD said it determined TransFair-authorized statements, which often appear in print and online, “do not convey an accurate message regarding the actual amount of fair-trade certified ingredients” in personal-care products.

The NAD also recommended that Avon stop using photos of fair-trade farm workers and headings like “help change the world with four of the best body care products on earth.”

TransFair, in a statement issued through the NAD, said the company “intends to follow the recommendations of NAD in order to further strengthen the TransFair personal-care products policy.”

Avon, in its statement, said the company is “disappointed with NAD’s findings regarding the use of certain photographs and messaging in Avon’s print and internet advertisements and respectfully disagrees with NAD’s analysis of what constitutes an ‘impact’ on the Fair Trade movement. Nevertheless, as a strong supporter of the self-regulatory process, Avon will take NAD’s recommendations into consideration in future advertising.”

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